Why did Indiana bridge collapse?
Some blame structure, others say it was overloaded and people were jumping on it
By Kim Janssen | Tribune reporter
July 6, 2009
A 90-foot bridge in the Hidden Lake Park in Merrillville,Ind. collapsed Saturday night as 4th of July revelers were leaving the park after fireworks. Sunday July 5, 2009 remains of peoples' belongings and a broken bridge are keeping the popular park closed. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / July 5, 2009)
Dozens of Independence Day revelers were lucky to escape with their lives when an overcrowded pedestrian bridge collapsed under their weight as they left a fireworks show in northwest Indiana late Saturday.
Amid screams and what survivors called a "terrifying scene," two cables holding up the suspension bridge at Hidden Lake Park in Merrillville failed at 10 p.m., sending the bridge and 50 to 120 children and adults crashing into a creek about 10 feet below.
The 80-foot span was designed to hold 40 people, but "at least twice as many" were on it when it collapsed, said Ross Township Trustee John Rooda, who runs the park.
Twenty-five injured people were treated at hospitals. The worst injuries were to a woman whose leg was broken and a man whose collarbone was fractured.
"It could have been much worse," said Rooda.
It's unclear why Merrillville police officers stationed at either end of the bridge couldn't control the crowd, he said. "We had one officer at each end," Rooda said. "That should have been enough."
Police Chief Joseph Petruch early Sunday issued a news release saying a preliminary investigation showed the cause of the collapse was the "structural failure of the footbridge." He didn't return calls seeking comment.
Rooda said the bridge passed inspection last year, adding, "This was not a failure of the bridge, there were too many people on it."
Jamie Hall, a mother of two and one of an estimated 10,000 people leaving the park when the bridge fell, said she saw the structure "sag and immediately I knew we were going in the water. I thought my baby was going to drown."
Hall, who was treated at a hospital for a sprained ankle, said she saw some people "jumping up and down on the bridge, laughing" before the collapse.
Lifeguards, police officers, firefighters and other rescuers formed a "human chain" to help frantic injured swimmers from the 8-foot deep water, before a team of police divers checked for victims trapped under the bridge, witnesses said.
"People were tangled up under there, and there were upset families who got split up on either side," said Merrillville Firefighter Mike Bunnell, who abandoned a sweet-corn booth to rescue people.
As investigators probed the collapse Sunday morning, a smelly collection of wet and broken belongings including a buckled baby stroller lay strewn about them as a reminder of the chaos.
Angry survivors and their families gathered at the closed park's gates Sunday afternoon.
Diana Rodriguez, whose niece, Tasha Rodriguez, was hurt, said: "We paid $8 to park and came here with our family because we thought it was a safe place to celebrate the 4th of July.
"I want to know why they let so many people on the bridge."
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